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6 tips for coping with a ‘cancelled’ Christmas

December 21, 2020

We always knew celebrations were going to be different this year. Our ‘Planning for an unusual Christmas’ blog post was all about preparing for this. But we could never have predicted the exact announcements given on the 19th December. These have probably led you to feel very differently or more intensely about this years’ Christmas. Whatever these feelings are, there are ways of looking at them that can help you manage them better.

How you’re feeling about this Christmas week no doubt hinges on a few things. Where you live. Your circumstances. What plans you had made. What plans are now possible. And how you’ve been feeling about the whole Covid situation in general.

A range of thoughts and emotions are bound to be felt. After such a challenging year many of us had been particularly looking forward being at least able to spend time celebrating together with our families and significant others. For many, having this one source of enjoyment and togetherness taken away at the last moment will be particularly stinging. Some people may feel relieved that difficult decisions have been taken from them. Some might feel frustrated and angry that their plans have had to change. Others might be experiencing sadness and loss now they’re no longer able to see loved ones. Or perhaps they’re sad because they’re now going to be on their own. Others may simply be feeling uncertain: unsure of what to do. And some may feel comforted that a more cautious approach to the festivities has been chosen.

How we’ve all acted since the weekend may be different too. Some people might have panicked, rushing around trying to post parcels. Others may have put undue pressure on themselves to try to still make this a “perfect” Christmas. And some may have retreated and started withdrawing from others.

All of these ways we are reacting, thinking and feeling are all understandable. We do hope, though, that – together with the tips in our earlier Planning for Christmas blog – the tips below are of some help in these difficult times:

1) Make difficult decisions carefully

You may be yet to make a decision about who to see or not see for Christmas Day. If this is the case, try to think of the possible options that you are comfortable with, list them, and then think of pros and cons of each one. You won’t find a perfect solution, unfortunately, but this process may help you decide which seems like the better option.

2) Share your decisions

If you’ve had to change your plans for Christmas, but you still need to share this with your loved ones, then perhaps try using some assertiveness. Being assertive is about being calm, direct and clear and communicating by:

  • accepting each other’s thoughts and feelings
  • explaining your thoughts and feelings
  • and saying what you would like to happen

For example:

“I know you were looking forward to coming to stay at ours over Christmas, and I imagine that you might feel disappointed with what I am about to say, but I was a bit uncertain about our plans anyway. I feel sad to have to say it: but given the new restrictions and the travelling you would need to do, I think it would be best if we postponed celebrating together until another time. I hope you understand… Shall we arrange a get together virtually on Christmas Day?”

3) Tap into your own tried coping strategies

Acknowledge how you are feeling, whether this is relief, anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment… Or even a mixture of them all. Try not to push your emotions away. Express how you feel and talk to others about how you are feeling if you can. Then think back to how you have coped with these emotions in the past. You may have learnt some unhelpful and some helpful coping strategies. See if the helpful ones can help now.

4) Take good care of yourself

If you’re able to, try to have a rest. Stay in touch with people virtually. Consider what keeps you physically and mentally well. We may find that eating and exercise regimes go out of the window during this festive period. However, this may be the year to try to keep on top of looking after yourself physically and emotionally. We can sometimes have such high expectations of ourselves at Christmas which can cause stress. Instead, as Shazna Khanom – our UK Clinical Director – puts it: ‘perhaps this year we can take the pressure of ourselves?’

5) Different doesn’t mean cancelled

We can all fall into the habit of thinking in “all-or-nothing” terms. So it might feel like Christmas is either full-on or cancelled. You might be thinking ‘what is even the point now?’ Or you might be the kind of person who only likes doing things if they ‘can be done right.’ There is a middle ground between perfect and cancelled. Try to focus on the good news: just because many of us will be having different Christmases this year, it doesn’t mean it is cancelled. The reason we celebrate hasn’t been cancelled. Just some it will have to be different from usual.

6) Focus on the future ahead

The Summer might feel a long way off, especially if you are taking things one day at time. But, as Shazna points out, ‘perhaps you could plan to do Christmas completely differently, in the Summer, with a BBQ, like they do in Australia!’

If you have found lockdown during the Winter season particularly difficult, you may find it helpful to reflect that we have reached the shortest day and that each day will become slowly lighter and lighter. Also, hopefully with each vaccination that is delivered we’re slowly heading in the right direction. Which reminds us, helpfully, that this specific situation won’t last forever. As Shazna is keen to remind us: ‘it will pass’. And we can take some comfort from knowing that.

We hope that these strategies help. If how you are feeling about Christmas and the pandemic continues to significantly affect your day-to-day life, you may find it helpful to sign up for free therapy on NHS here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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